GEOG 177: Geopolitics and the News: Intro to Research

Search Strategies

Get some tips: If you are having a tough time finding information related to your topic, browse through and watch our collection of tutorials.

Identify keywords:  Before searching the Library Catalog or other databases, choosing the right keywords is essential.  Take a few minutes to write down all the words or phrases that describe your topic.  Use these words in keyword searches. For more help with search strategies, follow the links immediately below.

Follow the bibliographic trail:  One proven method for gathering reliable information efficiently is to follow the citations or references from one source to another.  Just as internet links take you to other pages or sources recommended by a site's webmaster, the author of a book or article provides a series of notes and/or references in a bibliography designed to lead you to other sources on the topic. 

Adapted from Jon Giullian's guide to research 

Reading Scholarly Articles

Not a scientific article? How to read Humanities articles

  • First, read the abstract if there is one. This italicized paragraph contains the same loot as one from a scientific article.
  • Read the introduction and conclusion until you understand their main points.
  • Pay attention to any sentence that begins with something like “This article argues.” This is the author’s thesis statement or argument. Keep this in mind while dissecting the rest of the article and evaluating whether or not the author proved their argument.
  • If you see a portion of the paper where the author is describing previously published books or studies, this is the literature review. Skip this part for now.
  • Move onto the body of the paper where the author is actually making his or her argument, not just stating it. Once you locate that, read this intensively until you have a good understanding of what they are saying. Remember, this may not be clearly labeled as the discussion, so you may need to skim the article to figure it out.
  • Next, read the literature review to gain an understanding of the larger conversation the author is engaged in, and to identify possible sources to use in your own research.
  • Finally, you can read the whole thing from beginning to end. Having broken down the article beforehand, this should go pretty quickly. Keep an eye out for any parts of the argument that you have lingering questions about and read these parts more closely.

From Be Credible



Boolean Operators

Boolean operators allow you create searches that combine keywords and search terms for more relevant search results. 

  • AND - narrows the search by searching for both terms 
    • Ex. snowfall AND Montana, returns results that contain snowfall and Montana
  • OR - broadens the search by searching for either term
    • Ex. Apsaalooke OR Crow, returns results that contain either the Apsaalooke or Crow
  • NOT - narrows the search by excluding a term 
    • Ex. precipitation NOT rain, returns results that contain precipitation, but not rain

Searching Tips

Here are some general searching tips

  • Use quotation marks "x" to search a phrase
    • Ex. "climate change"
  • Use the wildcard symbol (usually an asterisk *) to search for alternate endings of words
    • Ex. snow* will also search for snows, snowfall, etc
  • Use parenthesis () to nest search terms and keywords
    • Ex. (Apsaalooke OR Crow) AND "climate change" AND snow*
  • You can combine Boolean searching with other searching tips (see above example)
    • Complex searches can be as ineffective as searches that are too simple because it can narrow your results too much

Evaluation Tips

Verify the author’s credentials

Most peer-reviewed studies you will come across will be written by college professors or graduate students who have expertise in the field about which they are writing. Google them to ensure they are affiliated with an academic or research institute.

  • Consider the author’s degree, education focus, and experience.
  • The more overlap there is between a researcher’s education field and the topic of the research, the more credible the research may be.
  • Finally, the longer someone has been a researcher, and the more research he or she has published, the more credible they may be.

Read and evaluate citations and works cited

If you notice that authors cite many of the same sources, there is a reason for this. Frequently and commonly cited sources are often call seminal works. Seminal works are ones in which a major finding is discussed, proven, or challenged. Authors cite seminal works to demonstrate that they are informed and credible scholars engaged with the major issues in their field. In order to be an informed and credible researcher yourself, you should do the same. Use Google Scholar or the library’s main search function to locate commonly cited sources, and read and include seminal works in your research.  

Evaluate the argument and evidence


This is probably the most difficult thing to do when you are learning about a new topic. You should have faith in your own abilities to judge a source’s credibility, though. Below are some tips:

  • Question an author’s evidence. Scholars must back up their opinions with facts. Make certain that they are fairly representing their research. For example, if the author is studying college students’ attitudes about X, make certain they interview or survey college students to directly seek their opinion. If they only talk to parents of college students, the author is misrepresenting their work.
  • Compare arguments. If two of your sources make argument A and one makes argument B, consider the evidence they use and decide which one seems most plausible to you. Just remember to backup your decision with evidence as well.
  • Double check their sources. If four of your five sources all cite and rave about a particular publication in their literature review, that probably means that is an important work. If your fifth source doesn’t cite this source, it could be an indication that the scholar is not the most knowledgeable authority on the subject.
  • From Be Credible


Help yourself


Cover ArtUse The Craft of Research to help conceptualize and develop your research project.

Chapter 3: From Topics to Questions guides you through the process of asking questions to help refine your topic.

Chapter 4: From Questions to a Problem helps you shape your questions into a focused hypothesis.   

Chapter 5: From Problems to Sources helps you find relevant and authoritative information.

...And don't forget to ask a librarian for help!  Check-out Print-book or Check-out E-book

adapted from Jon Giullian's guide to research